GREAT BEND — While surprise may be a parent’s first reaction to learning about a service now offered at Sunflower Early Education Center in Great Bend, a sense of relief may soon follow.

The service is called applied behavior analysis (ABA), which is designed for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. And it is not easy to come by in many areas of Kansas.

"ABA is very limited in the state," said Alyson Burkhart, EEC autism specialist. "Even in Wichita and farther east, many agencies that offer it have waiting lists. Families may wait a year or more. This is one reason why we are so passionate about providing ABA here. One other area agency offers it and we work closely with them."

ABA became an official service earlier in 2020, but after the coronavirus pandemic hit the state, service were limited for several months.

"However, we are now back on track," Burkhart said. "Currently, we support four families, with one more to start soon. We also have started a waiting list in our service area."

The Sunflower Diversified Services area includes Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. It is a nonprofit agency.

Current data indicate one in 54 children has ASD. Many are diagnosed as early as age 2.

"The most recommended treatment is ABA, which entails behavioral intervention," Burkhart said. "It is a therapy based on the science of learning and behavior. The goal is to increase helpful behaviors and decrease those that are harmful and affect learning."

Intensive behavioral intervention at Sunflower is offered to children up to age 5 or when they start kindergarten. ABA is for children with a medical diagnosis of ASD and/or a doctor’s referral.

EEC staff members do not diagnose. Services are adapted to the unique needs of each child. This may involve one-on-one teaching, group classroom instruction and/or parent training for up to 25 hours per week.

A transition plan, based on ongoing needs, is developed as the child approaches school age. Children are eligible for ABA as long as it is deemed medically necessary.

The EEC autism team has partnerships with the University of Kansas Developmental Pediatricians in Wichita and the Center for Child Health and Development at KU Medical Center to help with the timely diagnoses of ASD.

For more information, call 620-792-4087.